We remind journalists and consumers that you should always read our commentary rather than simply glancing at the grade or star score given a story – because this is an example of a story that addressed most of our criteria yet – in our opinion – failed readers.
The opening line is unacceptable in our view:
“Should people at high risk of heart attack and stroke eat dark chocolate every day?
Maybe, according to a new study from Australia.”
Later, one independent expert calls it “wonderful news” while another says it over-assumes benefits, is based on intermediate risk factors and ignores dangers.
Which is it?
Journalism should help readers hone their critical thinking and help them weigh the evidence.
The beginning and ending of this story was more like cheerleading.
We fear that this is the kind of story that leaves the American public numb to the kind of research news that they should care about. That’s why this matters.
The study included a cost-effectiveness analysis and the story reported on it. Unfortunately, it didn’t offer any critical analysis of that cost-effectiveness projection.
On the one hand, the story dutifully reported what the researchers reported about projected benefits.
But on the other hand, the input of the Harvard nutritionist/epidemiologist raised important questions about over-assumption of benefits, and relying on intermediate risk factors (not actual heart disease events like heart attacks).
So we’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.
The story quoted the Harvard expert:
“The researchers are ignoring some downsides, he says. “They are ignoring the dangers of too many calories and too much fat and sugar from the chocolate bar,” he says.”
But somewhere in this review, we must criticize the story for never offering any detailed analysis of the researcher’s “model.” We could do it in the Evidence criterion, but we’ll choose to do it here.
Surprisingly the model used by these researchers did not account for the adverse effects (weight gain, etc) that might accrue from adding a daily 100 g chocolate bar, which might contain as much as 600 calories (!), to your diet for 10 years. Since the entire underpinning of the story was the validity of the model, this is a weakness in the story.
Caveats were raised by both researchers quoted who were not part of the study:
No disease-mongering of heart attack and stroke.
The Harvard nutritionist/epidemiologist provided vital perspectives.
At least the story quoted the Harvard expert:
Those at risk of heart attack and stroke should first focus on lifestyle, Ding says. That includes weight loss if needed, exercising regularly, and not smoking.
The availability of dark chocolate is not in question.
The story explained that the study was an evaluation of “studies already published” and that the researcher believed “theirs is the first study to model the long-term effects of eating dark chocolate in reducing cardiovascular risk.”
It’s clear that the story did not rely solely on a news release.